Disability Accommodation Requests and the Interactive Process

Normally, when an employee is faced with the tall task of approaching their employer to request an accommodation for a disability, a first inclination is hesitation – whether an employer will react with disbelief or disdain, or even suggest that maybe the job at hand is not “a good fit” and it’s time to move on. Collectively, this amounts to a terrifying proposition. In this entry, I wanted to quickly explore what is required of an employer in such situations under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), to better equip an employee if this situation ever presents itself.

The first step required under the NYSHRL is for an employer to engage in a good faith interactive process that assesses the needs of the disabled individual and the reasonableness of the accommodation requested. The interactive process continues until, if possible, an accommodation reasonable to the employee and employer is reached.

The legislative purpose of the NYSHRL cannot be achieved without requiring that employers, in every case, consider the requested accommodations by engaging in an individualized, interactive process.  A failure to consider the accommodation is a violation of the NYSHRL, since the “employer has the responsibility to investigate an employee’s request for accommodation and determine its feasibility” (Pimentel v. Citibank, N.A., 29 A.D.3d 141, 149, 811 N.Y.S.2d 381 [2006], lv. denied 7 N.Y.3d 707, 821 N.Y.S.2d 813, 854 N.E.2d 1277 [2006]; cf. Parker v. Columbia Pictures Indus., 204 F.3d 326, 338 [2d Cir.2000], an ADA case in which the court ruled that “[a]t the very least … an employee who proposes an accommodation while still on short-term leave … triggers a responsibility on the employer’s part to investigate that request and determine its feasibility. An employer who fails to do so, and instead terminates the employee based on exhaustion of leave, has discriminated ‘because of’ disability within the meaning of the ADA”).

The NYCHRL has an even more expansive definition of interactive process and requires an individualized interactive process, and its absence represents a violation of the NYCHRL.  The NYCHRL goal of preventing discrimination (which includes failures to accommodate) “from playing any role in actions relating to employment, public accommodations, and housing and other real estate” (Administrative Code § 8–101) would otherwise be undermined.  The relief available to a plaintiff for an employer’s failure to engage in the interactive process depends on whether the process could have yielded a substantive accommodation that was reasonable.

As every employee’s situation is different, it is most prudent to contact a disability discrimination attorney to flesh out the facts to determine whether your claim is meritorious.

As always, if you believe you or your family member was and/or has been discriminated against in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact the disability discrimination attorneys of Risman & Risman, P.C. at (212) 233-6400 or contact us online.

 

 

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